Games in the Classroom
Here we are, right in the middle of holiday prep, and looking forward to celebrating New Year's Eve! When my daughters were young and still celebrating New Year's Eve at home with us, I planned a menu of appetizers only along with Shirley Temple cocktails, starting at 3 pm and extending until we carried the little partiers off to bed. Generally, we "dropped the ball" (in our imaginations) around 10 pm. Between 3 and 10, we had a conga line once per hour and danced all through our house, a family tradition started long ago in the house where I grew up. We also played games while we munched on our tiny plates of apps.
We went through almost every game in the house on those New Year's Eves, but spent the most time on Monopoly and Scrabble, our all-time favorites. We were expanding our language skills and sharpening our economic understandings without even realizing that was happening. We were interacting with each other, laughing together, and totally enjoying every minute of the celebration. If you have young children at home this holiday season, I can't recommend New Year's Eve Game Night highly enough! So many precious memories were made on those nights together!
Game playing holds as much magic in the classroom as it does at home. Games can be used to introduce new lessons, review and reinforce concepts already learned, and to develop skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork. My first experience with game playing in the classroom started when I was in Miss Brooke's fifth grade class. Miss Brooke had many games available to us in her games center, but my favorite was a bulletin board US map, where a blue light bulb would light up when you touched wires matching the state outline with its name. The learning I acquired there is still with me today. Go ahead, show me any state outline and I'll name that state!
I carried Miss Brooke's torch and love for games into my own classrooms throughout my teaching career. In the early years, I made card games for vocabulary and math practice and stored them in empty Pringle's potato chip cans. I created board games for every Social Studies unit and dice games for reading.
It's so easy to incorporate game playing into your teaching practices. I developed a review game with my students when the game show "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader" was on TV. Everyone watched it. It was part of the culture of our community. What fun to see fifth graders triumph over grownups! It showed that kids are smart, they pay attention, and have a lot of knowledge to share. I made a fairly simple power point with a slide for each subject and then inserted a question from a lesson we had learned that week. The question slide was linked to an answer slide. Three of my class jobs involved being the "Game Show Host", "Technician", and "Awards Committee". The whole class played every Friday in the time slot before lunch. Because what are you going to do then anyway, right? The host read the question as it appeared on the screen. The technician played a song loop on on our boom box. (Subliminal messaging works great here. The song we used for our peppy thinking music was "It Takes All Kinds of People" from Thanks and Giving by Marlo Thomas and friends. It took me forever to find this now long hidden gem on the internet, so I am linking it here for you. You're welcome! Make it your favorite ear worm. I can still hear it right now!) While the music played, kids wrote their answers on individual white boards (or laminated white card stock) with a wipe off crayon or marker. Each student kept an old sock in their desk to erase with. When the music stopped and the host said, "Show me!", each student held up his/her answer. Everyone with the correct answer received five rainbow city dollars. (Class Economy secrets here.) This simple review game became part of our class culture for years after the TV show failed. It was simply "what we do here" to remember and celebrate what we've learned and to get ready for tests.
SCOOT games are another way to introduce or reinforce learning in a responsive way. Kids need to move! This game approach gets them up and moving. An important piece of SCOOT gaming, though, is the followup. It's important to give students time for debriefing and a little conversation with their peers. As they present their responses, watch their learning success soar! Look here for a little SCOOT inspiration!
My favorite game of the moment is Wordle. I literally can't get out of bed in the morning before I solve the Wordle of the day! In convo recently with my favorite seven year old, she said that she’d like to play Wordle, like the grownups do. That put my teacher brain in motion, and this is what I came up with: Scwordle! It's a combo of Wordle and Scrabble. Scwordle is a scaffoldable, challenging, multilevel and scored way for kids to play a Wordle inspired game using their spelling lists, vocabulary practice words, word wall words, words associated with a class novel or shared informational article, or words of their own choosing. Kids can play alone with word lists that you have suggested, or challenge their friends and classmates with word choices of their own.
Learning to play this game will require some instruction at first, but students in grades 3-6 should be able to learn the rules quickly. Playing with partners is a great scaffolding hack! Remember that the goal of this game is to have fun with words. I promise that the learning will follow. Any changes in play that you and your students agree on are acceptable! If you try this board game version of Wordle, I promise that it will become the new favorite in your classroom. Playing this version has made me a much better online player too!
A final note about game-playing in class: Try setting up a game creation center in your class with some simple materials, such as cardstock, markers, dice, playing cards, bingo chips, spinners, and player pieces from discarded board games like Monopoly. You will be amazed at the games that your students produce to reinforce concepts they are learning in your classroom!
You can find my new Scwordle game here. I recommend making an extra set to play at home! Make it part of your New Year's Eve celebration!
Happy New Year, and best wishes for lots of game-playing fun and learning in the year ahead!